Creative Lunges, Or Why Writers Should Create More Than Words

Click me! with apologies to Sean Durkin (still from Martha Marcy May Marlene)

Today, I have been painting. I feel as though I should shout it.

I HAVE BEEN PAINTING.

And I’m not talking about house-painting. My skills may be mediocre but I’m thrilled to be creating, and in a medium other than words.

Ah, you’ve noticed that this is not a painting.  —->

As a writer, I crave creative outlet. I give myself permission to get lost in ecstatic moments: when the flow of words takes over, when characters seem to act on their own, when I slump back in my chair afterward and exclaim in amazement . This magic of creativity is addictive, and sometimes it’s scary, emotional and raw.

But lately, the craft aspect of writing feels like it’s come in between me and the joy of creative play. confession: I dislike revising (even though it’s an absolutely necessary step).

Henry Miller, that scamp, said the initial act of writing was like taking dictation from some voice outside of himself: “Someone takes over and you just copy out what is being said.”

But revision, the hard work that comes later, was also a delight to him.

“I don’t want to look at it for a month or two, the longer the better. Then I experience another pleasure. It’s just as great as the pleasure of writing. This is what I call ‘taking the ax to your work.’ I mean chopping it to pieces. You see it now from a wholly new vantage point. You have a new perspective on it. And you take a delight in killing even some of the most exciting passages, because they don’t fit, they don’t sound right to your critical ear. I truly enjoy this slaughter-house aspect of the game. You may not believe it, but it’s true.”

The act of revision, for me, has the opposite effect. It interrupts the play of words on the page. I feel blocked by the wrestling with words, and to be honest, I’ve been avoiding some of the vital work that must be done before my stories can go out into the world.

I want to play. Creative experience in other mediums seems like cross-training to me, to allow ourselves that flow and that PLAY. There’s probably some neurological reason for that intense feeling of satisfaction, but I’m not deeply analyzing it, I’m just pursuing it. I’m lunging for it.

Today I indulged that playful side with a fanciful palette spread before me like an artist’s buffet: watercolors, pencils, charcoal, scissors and glue (as well as a copy of the Los Angeles Times which resulted in the image above).

Drawing and painting (as well as drumming) feel similar to the free-flow of unfiltered words onto the page, and I’m consciously choosing to break from writing for a bit to open my creative channels back up.

Today, I’m doing this is through a collaborative art project inspired by 24-hour comic day, which is Saturday, October 1st. I want to create a comic in multiple mediums but without the time crunch. I know the compressed timeframe motivates participants (like the amazing team that is Galen Dara and Jaym Gates, who are live-tweeting their experience, and my talented partner, John Remy), and I respect and support that drive.

But I want the luxury of playing in the medium, experimenting. My first thought was, “Wait, I can’t draw.” But I’ve decided that for this project, at least, I will put those thoughts aside and follow the Zimbabwean maxim, “If you can talk, you can sing, if you can walk, you can dance.” If I can make marks, I can draw. Or something. And I can collaborate (with my dear friend Andrew Penn Romine) to deepen our friendship as we dive into this effort together.

(post includes quotes from David Stephen Calonne’s “Creative Writers and Revision,” chapter 9 of Horning and Becker’s Revision: History, Theory and Practice, the full text of which can be found here) 

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3 thoughts on “Creative Lunges, Or Why Writers Should Create More Than Words”

  1. Indeed, huzzah for cross-training! Lately I’ve got about a month each year where I’m a sculptor making a giant Bug out of forest wood and another month where I’m a trombonist in a steampunk Balkan jazz band, and these things leaven the fuck out of the other ten months spent being a writer. Because writing is a -slog- at times. We don’t get to use but more than our fingertips in making what we make, when sometimes you just wanna wave your arms around moving paint brushes, climb on your art and hang from it, swing an axe at a piece of wood that ain’t quite in the right shape yet! All of this is stuff you’ll never be able to do when writing, but maybe if you do it in another art form, you can carry back some of what it feels like to have your whole body involved in what your’re making, and benefit thereby.

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